Radiant Vermin is a surprising, dark tale of real estate dreams, on stage in Toronto
I was a bit surprised when I arrived at what appeared to be a storefront in Kensington Market to see Precisely Peter Productions’ performance of Radiant Vermin by British playwright Philip Ridley. It transpired that the theatre space, Dirty Talk, is in the store’s basement, where we were welcomed warmly by director John Shooter offering cupcakes and fancy, fruity drinks.
The rather rough basement was an ironic locale for a play on the subject of dream homes, and visually captured the satirical flavour of this dark comedy. Our protagonists cum antagonists are a young, working-class couple expecting their first child. All Jill and Ollie want is a dream home where they can raise their child and build a life together. Then one day Miss Dee, a mysterious government agent offers them exactly that, free of charge. It turns out there are some astonishing strings attached.
Given that I, and most of the other thirty-somethings I know are currently lamenting the prospect of ever squeezing our way into Toronto’s housing bubble, I was expecting a more realistic tale of millennial financial angst. Instead, this piece is a surreal, violent, satirical metaphor for the insatiable ruthlessness of state-sponsored gentrification. Jill and Ollie are up front with us right off the bat. They explain that they are going to make some extremely questionable choices in the quest for their dream home. It gets much worse than we imagined.
A minimalist set, props, and cast are written into the script, making it a superb choice for independent theatre in a no-frills venue. The costume and set design were cunning in their simplicity. The story unfolded in an open white room, with no set pieces or props, save for the stark, white spectre of a house at the back of the room with an open door way. The costumes were reminiscent of Ward and June Cleaver’s weekend look, if they were in sickly Technicolor and it was 2015. This aesthetic became increasingly sinister as their actions became increasingly depraved.
The minimalistic design of the work also provides plenty of opportunities for the cast to spread their wings, and the audience was treated to some truly impressive thespianism.
Marium Carvell gives an ominous performance as the creepy government agent Miss Dee, and is the embodiment of pathetic despair as one of the couple’s homeless, and mentally ill “renovators”.
Julie Tepperman and Jonas Widdifield give one of the most extraordinary performances I have ever seen during the “birthday party from hell” scene where they play Julie and Ollie—as well as all of their neighbours and their kids—at a pace that would blow the Gilmore girls’ minds.
The play was first produced in 2015, and this production is its Toronto premiere. Philip Ridley is considered to be at the vanguard of the “In-yer-Face” theatre movement that rose up in Britain in the early 90s. This play is certainly consistent with the genre’s penchant for shock-value as an audience engagement technique.
The play also maintains tension and engagement with some extremely witty lyrical prose, and virtuosic pacing. That being said, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and at times it felt like Ridley did not quite know when to draw the line. For example, my companion and I both agreed that the chaotic party scene went on several beats too long.
I do hope that Ridley starts to become more known on this side of the pond. I would see one of his plays again. I will also be keeping a close eye on Precisely Peter Productions as they seem to have a keen eye for dramatic, directorial, and design talent, and a knack for selecting work that makes razor’s edge commentary on issues that hit close to home.
- Radiant Vermin is playing until March 19, 2017 at Dirty Talk, (167 August Avenue, Toronto, ON)
- Show times are March 17 & 18 at 7:30 PM, with an additional matinee on March 19 at 3:00 PM
- Ticket prices are $25 for arts workers and Seniors, $35 for general audiences.
- Tickets are available by phone online